Reimagine Learning

The Big "Duh!" in Education: Game-based Assessment

When the Deputy Assistant to the President for Education walks into the room, followed shortly by the United States Chief Technology Officer, you know the conversation is about to get really interesting.

Game-Based Assessment (GBA)

Of course, in our case, the conversation was already interesting. Sitting in the beautiful and historically remarkable Indian Treaty Room at the White House complex, we were part of an incredible discussion on a relatively new development in education; game-based assessment. Our program officer and a champion of serious and learning games, Dr. Ed Metz, led the charge by bringing together representatives from educational technology and serious games companies throughout the country. 

The White House is interested in exploring game-based assessment as part our country’s testing solutions of the future.

Together with our colleagues in the field of game-based learning, we explored the challenges and opportunities offered by measuring learning, not through paper and pencil or computer-based tests, but by asking students to play games. Like so many of the others in the room, we believe that games have the potential to offer both teaching and learning opportunities, as well as the ability to provide deep and comprehensive evidence of teaching and learning. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the door has been opened for other types of assessment, including game-based assessments (GBA).

We often ask students and teachers to imagine what it would be like if our Martha Madison game could serve as a unit assessment. Here are some of the sorts of responses I often hear from students:

“Yes yes yes! I would be so happy! I would take tests every day if you asked me to!”

“I love how both my teacher and I could see how I’m doing in the game.”

“But this doesn’t feel like a test.”

“Games as tests, for real?”

We also hear from teachers, and these are their reactions:

“This would open doors for my students, especially the ones who have trouble reading lots of text or who are not native English speakers.”

 “I would so much rather “give a game” than “give a test.”

 “Inside the safe space of the game, students give themselves more permission to fail, learn from that failure, and try something new. That is something I would like to measure that I can’t with other kinds of assessments.”

“Games as tests, for real?”

Martha Madison is a serious game designed to increase STEM engagement and is funded by the National Science FoundationDr. Glen Larsen, NSF Program Director speclalizing in Educational Applications and Technologies, is a huge supporter of Second Avenue and our research and development on serious games and assessment.

For real!

So real, in fact, that the White House is interested in exploring game-based assessment as part our country’s testing solutions of the future. We were fortunate enough to have a chance to speak with Deputy Assistant Roberto Rodriguez, who acknowledged the remarkable potential of game-based assessments and called for more rigorous research in the area. U.S. C.T.O. Megan Smith echoed his remarks, and reminded us of the importance to design our assessments with all people in mind, including female and minority groups. As one key stakeholder in the group noted, game-based assessment constitutes the big “duh!” in education. We need to research and implement the obvious: games, used as powerful assessment engines.

After our lively and all-too-brief meeting, we left ever more dedicated to our work on our in-game assessments and data analytics engines. This important conversation has only just begun, and collaboration will be key to helping game-based assessment become a widely-implemented reality in tomorrow’s classrooms. If you are a teacher using games as assessments, would like to build GBAs, or want to learn more, please contact Dr. Anne Snyder, Second Avenue Learning’s Director of Research and Learning Design.

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